Nov. 28, 2012
The 10th-ranked Air Force water polo team travels to Los Angeles, Calif., this week, Dec. 1-2, to participate in the 2012 National Men's Collegiate Water Polo Championship, hosted by the University of Southern California.
The Falcons, seeded fourth, will play top-seed host USC in the first game on Saturday, while the second game will feature second-seed UCLA versus third-seed St. Francis Brooklyn. The third-place game will be played Sunday afternoon at 1:00 (PT), followed by the championship game at 3:12 p.m. All four games will be streamed live at NCAA.com.
SCOUTING THE FALCONS...
Fourth-seeded Air Force, the automatic qualifier from the Western Water Polo Association, enters this weekend's championship with a 19-10 overall record. Ranked 10th in the latest national coaches poll, the Falcons have won 10 of their last 11 contests.
Junior Josh Stedman is the team's leading scorer with 82 points on the season, including a team-high 61 goals, while seniors Brad Rajchel (39g, 23a) and Cruz Smithson (40g, 20a) have added 62 and 60 points, respectively. Meanwhile, senior goalkeeper Mike Fish has tallied 365 saves on the year.
SCOUTING THE TROJANS...
The top-seeded USC Trojans, ranked first in the nation, earned an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Championship by winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title. The Trojans, who remain the only undefeated team in the nation with a 27-0 overall record, look to capture an unprecedented fifth-straight national title this weekend.
USC is coached by Jovan Vavic, in his 18th year leading the Trojans. Vavic, a 10-time national coach of the year, holds 10 national championships (seven men's, three women's) and carries a 418-64 career record on the men's side.
This season, the Trojans feature six returning All-Americans, including junior Nikola Vavic, who has registered a team-best 79 goals on the season, and sophomore Kostas Genidounias, who has added 62 scores. Vavic and Genidounias were both named All-MPSF first-team selections, along with James Clark and Jeremy Davie, while Michael Rosenthal (second team), Mace Rapsey and Matt Burton (honorable mention) all earned MPSF recognition as well.
SCOUTING THE BRUINS...
The second-ranked UCLA Bruins, seeded second in this weekend's championship, were granted an at-large bid to the Natonal Collegiate Championship after capturing third-place at the MPSF Championship last weekend. The Bruins enter this weekend with a 27-4 overall record on the year. UCLA is coached by Adam Wright, in his fourth year at the helm of the Bruins' program. In his first three seasons as UCLA's head coach, Wright led the Bruins to a pair of conference titles and national runner-up finishes, and now holds a 93-22 career record.
The Bruins feature four returning All-Americans this season, including 2011 first-team honorees Josh Samuels and Griffin White. Samuels, a first-team All-MPSF selection this year, leads UCLA's offense with 65 goals on the season, while White has added 42 scores.
SCOUTING THE TERRIERS...
The St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers, ranked 11th in the nation and seeded third in the national tournament, earned their automatic bid by capturing the CWPA Eastern Championship. The Terriers, making their second appearance at the National Collegiate Championship in the last three seasons, enter the weekend with a 16-8 overall record.
St. Francis is coached by Igor Samardzija, in his fourth year at the helm of the Terriers' program. Samardzija, who carries a 66-28 career record, was recently named the CWPA Northern Division Coach of the Year for the second-straight season.
Among the leaders for the Terriers are goalkeeper Igor Mladenovic and top scorer Marko Gencic, both who were named first-team all-conference selections.
This weekend's meeting between Air Force and USC will be the 16th in the all-time series, with the Trojans undefeated versus the Falcons. The last meeting between the two teams came in 2009, when USC earned a 16-5 victory in the opening weekend of the season. Should Air Force meet UCLA this weekend, it would be the 24th contest in the all-time series, with the Bruins winning each previous meeting. The two teams met twice in 2011, with UCLA earning 21-4 and 18-5 victories.
A meeting between Air Force and St. Francis Brooklyn would be the eighth in the all-time series, with the Terriers holding a 5-2 advantage over the Falcons. The two teams split a pair of contests in 2011, with each team earning a one-goal victory.
AIR FORCE AT THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP...
This year, Air Force makes its eighth NCAA Championship appearance all-time and its first since 1994. This marks the first time that the Falcons have been part of a four-team championship field (the tournament was pared from eight to four teams in 1994).
Prior to this season, Air Force's best-ever finish at the NCAA Championship was a sixth-place showing in 1990. The Falcons placed seventh in 1994, while finishing eighth in 1974, 1978, 1979, 1981 and 1986.
WWPA COACH OF THE YEAR...
Air Force head coach Jeff Heidmous was tabbed the 2012 Western Water Polo Association Coach of the Year, as selected by his peers. Heidmous helped lead the third-seeded Falcons to their first WWPA title in nearly two decades. In the conference tournament, Air Force defeated both Loyola Marymount and UC San Diego, the two teams which had combined to win the previous 14 WWPA championships.
Heidmous, winning the third WWPA Coach of the Year honor of his career, guided the Falcons to a 16-10 regular season record and 9-4 mark in the Western Water Polo Association, despite being chosen to finish fourth in the league's preseason poll. He also elevated Air Force to a national top 10 ranking following the Falcons' WWPA title run.
WWPA CHAMPIONSHIP RUN...
Air Force earned its automatic bid to the national tournament by capturing its first Western Water Polo Association title since 1994. The Falcons, seeded third in the WWPA Championship, earned victories over sixth-seed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (14-8), second-seed Loyola Marymount (10-9) and top-seed UC San Diego (9-7) en route to the championship.
Against CMS, Air Force rolled to a 9-3 advantage at the half before cruising to the eight-goal victory. Senior Cruz Smithson led the Falcons' offense with five goals, while goalkeeper Mike Fish tallied 14 saves in just under three and a half periods.
In the Falcons' semifinal contest against Loyola Marymount, senior captain Brad Rajchel notched a game-high four goals, including the gamewinner, to upset the second-seeded Lions. Air Force's win ended an 18-game losing streak against Loyola Marymount which dated back to the 2003 season.
Meanwhile, Air Force advanced to its first WWPA championship game since 1999, facing UC San Diego. Despite dropping all three of their regular-season match-ups versus the Tritons, the Falcons pulled away in the second half to secure the win. Fish had an outstanding performance in goal for Air Force, registering 18 saves, while Rajchel and junior Andrew Hamilton tallied two goals each to pace the Falcons' offense.
WWPA ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM...
Four Falcons were named to the Western Water Polo Association all-tournament team, paced by senior Cruz Smithson, who was named the tournament MVP. Senior goalkeeper Mike Fish and team co-captain Brad Rajchel joined Smithson on the all-tournament first team, while senior defender Garrett Womack was named a second-team all-tournament selection.
Four Air Force players earned recognition from the WWPA this season, led by junior Josh Stedman, who earned the second first-team All-WWPA selection of his career. Seniors Mike Fish and Cruz Smithson were both named second-team all-conference selections, while rookie Ben Rogers was named to the WWPA All-Freshman team.
RECORD BOOK WATCH...
With his 10 points in the opening weekend of competition, senior Cruz Smithson moved onto the Falcons' list of top-20 all-time scorers. Since then, Smithson has broken into Air Force's top 10, ranking 10th with 237 career points (173 goals, 64 assists).
Additionally, Smithson also moved into the Academy's top five list for career goals scored, ranking fifth in school history.
RECORD BOOK WATCH, PT. 2...
Senior goalkeeper Mike Fish has also moved into the Academy's record books this season. With 365 saves this season, Fish now has registered 676 saves for his career, ranking third in program history. His career saves per game average of 10.24 ranks as the second-highest in Academy history, while Fish also ranks fifth in career save percentage (.554).
In addition, Fish has averaged 12.58 saves per game in 2012, a mark which would set the new single-season record at the Academy, surpassing the record of 11.56 shared by Fred Logan (1981) and Mark Baudendistel (1989).
RECORD BOOK WATCH, PT. 3...
With his performance at the WWPA Championship, junior Josh Stedman entered the Academy's list of top-20 career scorers. Stedman now has 184 points for his career (133g, 51a) and needs just one more point to tie for 19th place on the Falcons' all-time scoring list.